Zika vaccine trials could halt without new funds, official says

Zika vaccine trials could halt without new funds, official says
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A top U.S. health official says that advanced trials of a Zika vaccine would be hindered or even stopped completely if Congress does not approve more funding. 

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of infectious disease research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said he hopes to start a phase II trial of a Zika vaccine in early 2017, but that the effort requires more money.  

“The vaccine effort will be blunted, if not completely aborted, if we don’t have the money to go into the advanced trials,” Fauci said Wednesday on a call with reporters.

He said that so far, the NIH has been able to go forward with vaccine research by shifting money from other areas. He hopes to start phase I trials in late August or early September. 

That money has come from funding to combat the 2014 Ebola epidemic and other diseases, such as tuberculosis, Fauci said. 

But he warned that for the phase II trials, there will be no more money to shift over. 

“I don’t have money to move from any other place,” he said. 

The administration has been pressing Congress for months to approve its $1.9 billion request for Zika funding. The virus, which is spread by mosquitoes and sexual contact, has been shown to cause severe birth defects. Health officials expect more cases across the U.S. this summer.

The future of any new funding is in doubt, though, given that Congress has descended into finger-pointing over which party is to blame for holding up funding legislation. 

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked passage of a $1.1 billion bill to fight the virus because of its limits on Planned Parenthood funding and cuts to Ebola and ObamaCare programs. 

Democrats have called on Republicans to negotiate a bipartisan bill, but Republicans have so far refused.